Fargo: Season 3 Episode 1 review – The Law of Vacant Places
This review contains spoilers.
Since our screens were last filled with the quaint but bloody charms of Minnesotan crime, Fargo creator Noah Hawley has elevated his game within the eyes of his fans. The first two seasons of Fargo proved Hawley was a talent to be reckoned with – a unique voice who could meld beauty with an intense bizarreness and come out on top – but it is Legion that marked a cornerstone in Hawley’s output.
Fargo is a better beast than Legion, in my opinion, but the latter proved that Hawley’s talents transcend genres – even to the point of creating something that’s never been seen before, as he did with Legion. Hawley used many of the cast members from Fargo Season 2 for Legion and the result was a visually and mentally stimulating show that reached brutally elegant heights in the latter half of its season.
With the arrival of Fargo Season 3, then, the board of Hawley’s game has changed. Hawley is now not only seen as the man who brought the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece back with grace, but also as the man who made Legion. That brings a whole host of fresh expectations for Fargo Season 3 that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
They are different shows entirely, true, but we now know the kinds of mind-rupturing heights that Hawley is truly capable of and I’m excited to see if any of that reveals itself in this third season. Season 2 already showcased some sublime UFO content, particularly within Episode 9, so the potential is already there. The cast is newly hand-picked (and more A-list than last season), the story can once again be anything at all (with no pressure to follow on from what’s come before), and therefore the promise is boundless.
Beginning in 1988 East Berlin, in a scene that reminded me more of Inglourious Basterds than anything from the Coen Brothers, the show managed to bring back that classic bumbling Minnesotan misfortune, even though the scene was miles away both tonally and literally. This was best exhibited when the accused man realises that his wife does indeed share the same name as the woman that he is being accused of having murdered.
You can see in his expression and hear in his voice just how unlucky he feels, in that small moment. Choosing to be honest, he states that yes – due to a coincidence – they do share the same first name (Helga), but he goes on to implore that he is not the man they think he is. The truth of the matter is never established, with the camera instead cutting away into a snowy landscape painting, with the utterly beautiful Fargo score playing over the shot.
As a fan of both the Coens’ body of work and of this show, it brought me a real warmth to hear those sombre notes. Then the the classic joke disclaimer about the show being “based on real events” struck and I felt a wave of nostalgia, followed by the thought: ‘damn, have I missed this show.’ It’s something not many shows can achieve, because this show doesn’t just hold memories of the last two years, but it harks to something that spans all the way back to 1996 for some fans.
The first pertinent question with this new season is: will it fall into the same trap that the start of Season 2 did? By this I mean getting so bogged down in the introduction of so many new characters that it actually deters viewers from continuing with the show. I was one such viewer; after three episodes of Season 2 I placed the show aside and didn’t go back to it for some time. And there are others I know who are still yet to go back to the show, even now.
It’s a risk here too, then, but luckily this entire episode felt as if the creators have learned their lesson well. The character count here seemed diminished and the narrative was fairly straightforward. From Ewan McGregor’s twin brothers (dual roles can be risky), to Carrie Coon’s (who has two superb shows airing at the moment) Gloria, all of the characters are easily connected at the moment through Maurice’s giant blunder that was robbing the wrong place and killing an innocent man in the process (perhaps a little too basic of a plot, if you ask me, but let’s see where they take it).
It’s really nice to see Michael Stuhlbarg in the season too, who was, of course, the lead in the Coen Brothers film A Serious Man, but most exciting for me is Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Nikki), who on the face of it, you might not have associated with being suitable for Fargo. But when you take a moment to consider it, you realise that she is absolutely perfect for the show and so far her Minnesotan charm is coming across really well indeed. Most of the best quotes have come from Nikki so far (simpatico!) and the trailer revealed that there are more to come (unfathomable pinheadery!).
Seeing Ray be dazzled by his own girlfriend’s naked form, rather than having the sense to grab the gun was hilarious. Nikki’s cunning with the unit was also enjoyable, even though I was a little less impressed with the gore effect used for Maurice’s death (would the impact really have caused such over the top gore?). And it’s a shame to see Scoot McNairy vanish so soon, given I know how great he can be from his turn in Halt and Catch Fire.
This was a very good start to what “you betcha” will be a damn fine season. It didn’t quite hit the heights I was hoping it would and I’m getting the feeling that this won’t be as good as Season 2, in all honesty, but most of Hawley’s seasons begin on a more tempered note and then slide into a glorious fugue state of excellence. So let’s see what lays ahead.
Image credits: FX